- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The bodies had been removed, but a pool of dried blood at the dead end of a twisting alley suggests that a massacre took place here last Tuesday. xxxxxxxxxxxx Residents of Fort National, which like most slums in this capital supports former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, gathered around the darkening blood on Wednesday. Some, afraid to give their names, said policemen wearing black hoods fatally shot 12 persons, then dragged the bodies away. At least three families had identified the bodies of relatives at the morgue, and others with missing loved ones said they feared the worst.

“The police officers will say that this was an operation against gangs. But we are all innocent,” said Eliphete Joseph, a young man wearing a blue basketball jersey who said he knew several of the men killed.

“The worst thing is that Aristide is now in exile far from here in South Africa, but we are in Haiti, and they are persecuting us only because we live in a poor neighborhood,” said Mr. Joseph, his eyes red from crying.

Police spokeswoman Gessy Coicou said police had led a raid into Fort National the day of the killings in search of gang leaders. Justice Minister Bernard Gousse confirmed that police had been there, although he said they were investigating reports of gunmen on rooftops.

Mrs. Coicou later changed her story, saying the police were not in the neighborhood.

A police official said at least eight persons were killed. There have been no reports of police injuries or casualties.

On Thursday, in another slum known for its support of Mr. Aristide, people said armed men in police uniforms and black hoods executed four young men. The next day, their bodies lay face down in the street covered with flies next to a pile of trash. Their wrists had been tied with shoelaces, and at least two had charred fingers, suggesting they had been tortured.

Global blessing

The killings appear to be the latest example of what human rights groups describe as a campaign of repression against supporters of Mr. Aristide — a former Roman Catholic priest twice elected president, who was hated by Haiti’s rich and powerful but beloved by the poor.

Mr. Aristide left Haiti on Feb. 29. The Bush administration said he resigned, but the ex-priest maintains that he was forced out in a coup d’etat.

Some Haitians and international human rights observers are beginning to compare Haiti today with the darkest days of the 1991-94 military regime and with the 1957-86 dictatorships of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

One difference, they say, is that the current government has the blessing of the international community.

Neither the United States nor the United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force of more than 3,000 troops in Haiti, have criticized abuses committed under the government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who took power in March after Mr. Aristide left.

“When 20 to 30 people were getting killed a year [while Mr. Aristide was president], there was a cascade of condemnation pouring down on the Aristide government,” said Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. “Now that as many as 20 to 30 are getting killed in a day, there is silence. It is an obvious double standard.”

U.N. and government officials deny that Haitian security forces are killing Aristide supporters.

“The government is not violating people’s rights,” Mr. Gousse said last week. “We’ve made it very clear to the police. We have to fight terrorists, but also protect the civilian population. We will not accept human rights abuses.”

Rights abuses

Observers in Haiti say it is difficult to document how many people have been killed and by whom.

There are myriad armed groups in the country, including some that support Mr. Aristide and others that have shifting political allegiances. Heavily armed former members of Haiti’s military, disbanded by Mr. Aristide in 1995, swagger through the capital and control large swaths of the countryside with tacit U.N. and government approval.

It is clear is that in recent weeks, the government has gone on the offensive against members of Mr. Aristide’s Lavalas Party, raiding poor neighborhoods, searching homes and arresting people without warrants.

Meanwhile, the jails are holding many prisoners who have never seen a judge or been charged with a crime.

Gerardo Ducos, who heads an observer mission in Haiti for Amnesty International, said supporters of Mr. Aristide have suffered the brunt of human rights violations since the change in government.

“A lot of us were hoping the human rights situation would improve after Aristide left. Now, it is worse,” said Renan Hedouville, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for the Respect of Individual Liberties, a group that criticized the Aristide government for suspected human rights abuses.

“People are being arrested without warrants and for political reasons and being put in jail without seeing a judge. Women are being raped by police and ex-military, and Lavalas members in poor neighborhoods are being killed,” said Mr. Hedouville, who has received numerous death threats.

“The international community needs to condemn these abuses. If they don’t make a clear statement, they will be complicit.”

The most publicized case has been that of the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest who was arrested in his parish without a warrant on Oct. 13 while at a soup kitchen he runs for about 600 children. Mr. Gousse said on Thursday that Father Jean-Juste is suspected of hiding “organizers of violence.”

“That’s completely false,” said the priest, a prayer book under one arm, as he stood in the shade of a high concrete wall outside his cell in the national penitentiary.

“People say I was arrested because I could be a potential [presidential] candidate,” said Father Jean-Juste, a friend of Mr. Aristide.Father Jean-Juste established a center in Florida to help Haitian refugees.

“Nobody is following the constitution now. We need to return to democracy, to the rule of law. I lived many years under Duvalier. He killed so many people, but he never kept a priest in jail.”

Crackdown or dictatorship?

In mid-October, Haitian police burst into a Port-au-Prince radio station and without a warrant arrested three former Lavalas Party lawmakers participating in a broadcast criticizing the government. Other prominent prisoners include folk singer and Lavalas activist Annette Auguste, prominent pro-Aristide university professor Pierre Reynold Charles, former Prime Minster Yvon Neptune and two other senior officials under Mr. Aristide.

Mr. Hedouville said most prisoners are young, poor men from the slums of the capital who are not politically active but have been targeted because they resemble pro-Aristide militants.

Human rights observers say the ex-soldiers who control cities such as Petit-Goave in western Haiti — where they chased out the police and appointed themselves the government — are arresting and persecuting Lavalas supporters just as the government is doing in Port-au-Prince.

“We fought to bring democracy to Haiti, but since this government took over, it’s been a dictatorship,” said Mario Joseph, a human rights lawyer who worked to bring past human rights abusers to justice under Mr. Aristide. Mr. Joseph now represents 54 persons he says are political prisoners.

Government and U.N. officials have defended the crackdown as an effort to put an end to violence that left dozens dead in the past month. They accuse Aristide supporters, whom government officials habitually refer to as “terrorists” and “bandits,” of killing police officers and with trying to destabilize the Latortue administration.

“What we have seen in this country during the last month or two has been a resurgence of brutal violence organized probably in order to provoke a process of political destabilization,” said Brazilian Juan Gabriel Valdes, who heads the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

“Any state has the right to defend itself,” Mr. Valdes went on. “We were sent by the United Nations to help and to assist a government, and this task was given to us by the Security Council of the United Nations.”

Evidence of such “destabilization” has been scant.

Gunfire and robberies have become common in downtown Port-au-Prince, but it is not always clear whether they are politically motivated. Mr. Gousse told The Washington Times that he knew of only two lootings and that police officers had been killed only while carrying out raids in slums.

In recent weeks, press attention has focused on the killing and decapitation of two policemen, which has been described as part of “Operation Baghdad.”

But the government has offered no evidence the decapitations were carried out by Aristide supporters, nor that any such operation exists.

Guyler C. Delva, head of the Haitian Journalists Association, said the term “Operation Baghdad” was coined by Mr. Latortue and is not used by Aristide supporters.

“They are persecuting the Aristide people because they are afraid of them,” said lawyer Reynold Georges, leader of a political party that opposed Mr. Aristide, who is representing Father Jean-Juste and several other jailed Lavalas members.

“A lot of people have stayed loyal to Lavalas. Believe it or not, it’s true,” Mr. Georges said. “The poor people, the masses, still in believe in Aristide.”

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